learn more about program evaluation for your hearing conservation program

Evaluate

Make sure your hearing conservation program is working with regular program evaluations. This will identify trends, magnify problem areas and drive improvement.

Is the hearing conservation program effective?

  • evaluate the hearing conservation program to determine its effectiveness and identifying areas for improvements

    The ultimate goal of a Noise Management Program (or hearing conservation program (HCP)) is to protect people from developing hearing loss caused by working in hazardous noise. When all of the HCP tasks have been completed, and all of the regulations have been checked and followed, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the overall program. Is it actually preventing noise-induced hearing loss? Are there gaps? How can it be improved? Is the program efficient and cost effective?

    There are several ways to measure the effectiveness of the program. One is to specifically evaluate changes that occur as a result of the program, like the trend over time of the number of hearing loss cases. Other outcome measures can be tracked, like successful reduction of noise sources or exposures. Another approach is to look at the cost of delivering the program and comparing it to the cost of implementing noise control to reduce the noise hazards. It can also be helpful to audit the program for compliance and/or to review company policies and practices to ensure alignment between what is on paper and what really happens in practice.

    Conducting routine evaluations of program effectiveness is recommended. Companies choose to review aspects of the HCP at different times to spread the workload throughout the year or conduct an audit at the same time every year or every other year. Program evaluation can be done by using internal resources, contracting the service to outside subject matter experts, or through a combination of both. Finally, once the key findings are identified, the next step is to incorporate the recommendations into your HCP.

Key Takeaways

    • Effective HCPs prevent noise-exposed workers from having Significant Threshold Shifts.
    • Analysis of HCP records, policies and practices will help duty holders evaluate the quality of their efforts.
    • Regular program evaluation can identify trends, detect gaps, and drive improvement.
    • Evaluation can include cost analysis and return on investment (ROI).

Getting Started With Program Evaluation

  • For an effective Noise Management Program (or HCP), coordinated action from several groups in the organization is a must. Roles and responsibilities should be outlined in the Noise management Policy, to allow for transparency. AS/NZS 1269.1 - Occupational Noise Management – Noise control management (Table 3.1) highlights key responsibilities of personnel in a large organization and provides further information on assembling organization actions. Evaluating the programs performance can be completed inhouse or conducted by an independent service provider who perform such a service.

  • There are several approaches to program evaluation. Simple checklists can be used to determine if company policies and procedures are in compliance with regulations.

    Another approach is to identify outcome measures, that can be used to track the progress of program goals. Examples of outcome measures include:

    • Noise reduction accomplished through engineering controls
    • Number of workers in the HCP
    • Completion of hearing protection fit testing
    • Trends in Significant Threshold Shift incidences
    • Hearing impairment rates
  • Program evaluation can be an ongoing process in terms of ensuring that tasks are completed as planned and regulatory requirements are met. However special assessments can be scheduled periodically to dig deeper into the details. Some organisations conduct annual internal audits as preparation for a potential external, unscheduled inspection.

  • Recommendations for improvement may be simple, such as identifying positions for hearing protection dispensers through the work space, or more complicated, such as developing a plan to increase the completion rate for audiometric retests for workers who experience a standard threshold shift. Program changes can be complex, such as strategically planning to implement engineering control projects to reduce noise exposure over 85 dB(A) or 140 dB (C).

  • Operating an effective hearing conservation program costs money as well as time and energy. It is helpful to calculate the actual costs of delivering the program and compare that to the costs of reducing hazardous noise. A cost effectiveness analysis can reveal if resources are allocated appropriately or if changes could increase program effectiveness.


What is required?

  • Under Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia, 'persons conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) are required to manage the risk to health and safety due to hazardous noise in the workplace, and must ensure workers are not exposed to workplace noise above the workplace exposure standard (WES) of LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) or LC, peak of 140 dB(C). The Safe Work Australia Code of Practice: Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work, provides support for complying with the regulatory noise exposure standard, and AS/NZS1269 series, provides guidance on all facets of managing noise in the workplace including implementing a Noise Management Program (also known as a Hearing Conservation Program). The aim of a Hearing conservation program is to manage workplace noise holistically, thereby minimizing the incidence of occupational noise-induced hearing impairment in the workplace.


Basics of Program Evaluation

  • Compliance Checklist

    In some cases, a checklist for regulatory compliance is conducted to ensure that all regulatory requirements are being met with the existing company policies and procedures. In the true sense, a compliance checklist is different than an evaluation of program effectiveness, however it is a good place to start, in order to document that the HCP (or Noise Management Program) is in compliance.

Beyond the Basics

  • Program Audit

    A HCP (or Noise Management Program) audit is more in depth than a compliance checklist.This typically involves interviewing members of management, staff, and workforce. Records can be reviewed in detail and an effort is made to identify if everyday practices are aligned with the company policies and procedures. A comprehensive program audit can be done by an internal team or may be contracted with an external, subject matter expert.

  • Tracking Outcome Measures

    Outcome measures can be used to determine the effect of an intervention program. Examples are given below. Select one or more and track the results over time to identify trends and guide program decisions. These measures can be focused on the results of the audiometric database to track occurrences of hearing shift or hearing loss. Ideally, the occurrences of hearing shift in the noise exposed group of workers should be the same as that of a non-noise exposure population of workers at the same facility.

  • Significant Threshold Shifts Percentage

    To calculate the incidence of significant threshold shifts, divide the number of significant threshold shifts cases by the number of annual tests and multiply the result by 100.

    % Significant threshold shifts = 100 x (# of significant threshold shifts/ # annual tests)

    For example, a company that conducted 200 Biennial hearing tests found 9 cases of significant threshold shifts. The overall percent significant threshold shifts for the noise-exposed group is 100 x (9/200) or 4.5%. Tracking this number over time can help identify if the significant threshold shifts rate is acceptable and/or stable.

  • Audiometric Data Base Analysis

    Another approach is to analyse the audiometric database results of workers who have been tested. Analysis of the audiometric data base can identify trends in the workplace and detect signs of occupational hearing loss in similar exposure groups (SEGs), before large threshold shifts occur for individuals. This analysis can therefore assist the workplace in application of an appropriate intervention plan to correct shortcomings evident in the HCP (or Noise Management Program). Refer to AS/NZS 1269.4 "Occupational noise management - Auditory Assessment" for more specific details.
  • Other outcome measures

    Other measures can be conducted on other aspects of the HCP (or Noise Management Program), like tracking the number of people in critical exposure groups, noise control efforts that result in decreased exposures, or on achieving a target for completing hearing protection fit-testing.

    Here are some examples to monitor change over time:
     

    • Number of decibels reduced by noise control projects
    • Personal Attenuation Rating after hearing protection fit testing
    • Number of hearing protection types offered and used
    • Change in compliance of hearing protection use after training

Have You Considered?

    • Can you spread out the evaluation phase over time in order to study a single aspect of the program, such as the quality of the audiometric database?
    • Would spending resources on noise control provide long term cost savings by reducing the number of people in the HCP (or Noise Management Program)?
    • Conducting a survey of the noise-exposed workers to learn what their perceptions of the HCP (or Noise Management Program) are?
    • Contracting with an external subject matter expert to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the audiometric data variability and intervention practices?
    • Creating a strengths, weaknesses, advantages, and threats (SWAT) review of the HCP (or Noise Management Program)?

Resources for Program Evaluation

Noise, SafeWork Australia
See “Codes and Guides” tab links to: Model Code of Practice: MANAGING NOISE AND PREVENTING HEARING LOSS AT WORK: October 2018
This page also includes links to State and Territory Regulators for specific local requirements.

The Australian Standard AS/NZS 1269 series, Occupational noise management (1 – 4), provides technical requirements and guidance on all facets of occupational noise management.

  • IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow local laws and regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable laws and regulations must be followed.

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